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Shock follows Worth County schools' rejection of Marines' children

Smiles were rare for Col. Don Davis, commander of Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, Saturday on board the base during a news conference regarding the Worth County School Board’s decision to not allow children of Marines on base to attend schools in the system. That decision Thursday has parents scrambling to find schools for some 57 students. (July 13, 2013)

Smiles were rare for Col. Don Davis, commander of Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, Saturday on board the base during a news conference regarding the Worth County School Board’s decision to not allow children of Marines on base to attend schools in the system. That decision Thursday has parents scrambling to find schools for some 57 students. (July 13, 2013)

MCLB-ALBANY — The Worth County Board of Education's decision Thursday to suspend a policy that allowed students whose parents are Marines living on the Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany to attend Worth County schools stunned base officials and outraged many parents of the 57 children who, at least for now, have nowhere to go when school opens next month.

"We were caught completely off-guard," MCLB-Albany commander Col. Don Davis said during a hastily called news conference at the base Saturday morning. "We have had a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Worth County School since 2006. We have 57 kids that call Worth County Schools their home. They call themselves Rams. I am certain that this decision is not in line with Dr. Thomas' (WCSS Superintendent Barbara Thomas) philosophy of 'every child, every day.'

"This decision runs contrary to anything I've seen since I have been here, it's completely out of character. Up to this point, we had choices. As commanding officer, it is my job to look after the welfare of my Marines and their families."

A conference call is scheduled Monday morning between base officials and WCSS representatives to discuss the decision and options.

The colonel said he understands that the decision was reached after a budgetary review and discussion. He added he was told that the WCSS spends $8,300 per student during a school year, which would total just over $470,000 per year for the base kids.

The state provides FTE (full-time equivalency) money for the 57 at just over $357,000 per year, leaving Worth to pick up the remaining $130,000 through local revenues. That $130,000 appears to be the sticking point.

Neither Thomas nor any of the five Worth County School Board members could be reached for comment Saturday.

"Look, I understand we are in difficult times economically, but this is a shortsighted decision." Davis said. "The base provides $1.4 billion annually to the area's economy. How much does Worth County benefit from that? We are hoping the board will reconsider or at least grandfather the 57 students who are already in the system. Really, $130,000 is a small price to pay."

When asked if he had heard from of any parents, Davis replied, "Yes, and they are outraged."

On a Facebook post, Margaret Christensen, a base mother of two children in the WCSS, unloaded on the system. Below are some excerpts of her rather lengthy open letter to school officials:

"I am a parent to two of your Worth County Primary students — oh wait — former Worth County Primary students. My family and I moved to MCLB Albany last year due to my husband's military orders — orders that my children have no control over. When we moved to the area I was absolutely appalled by the issues going on with the Dougherty County Schools and chose to homeschool my oldest child.

"Then neighbors told me how their kids went to Worth County schools and how much they loved it. I took my oldest son to the school and he fell in love with it. He had been very lonely since the last move and really missed belonging to a school family. He fell right into the school and put his heart and school into learning even earning him a spot in the gifted program.

"This year my second child will be a kindergartner and has already been registered and seen the school and bragging about all the things that Worth County Primary has to offer. My kids have been actually looking forward to starting school in the next few weeks because they love their school so much. That is right — their school. This is the school that accepted them with open arms agreeing to care and nurture them in the best environment that we could provide.

"How do I explain why my kids cannot go to THEIR school next year? Because even though this agreement has been in place for years a board cannot properly budget for these minimal amount of children that come from a base that financially supports a large amount of the Worth County/Dougherty County/Lee County population? Our children and their education are getting lower and lower on the list of priorities these days, and it is decisions like these that are doing it."

"If this decision is not reverse (sic) this is what I will explain to my children — that five older aged gentlemen sat around a table and decided that their education wasn't important enough to find a way — any way to keep them there. I will tell them that they kept the issue quiet because they didn't want to give their mommy's and daddy's a chance to fight for their kids and their right to a good education. I will tell them unfortunately we live in a world where the importance is placed on money and not humanity.

"Then I will teach them about integrity and how that is all we have in life is keeping our word, and if people — like these people on this board — have sworn to be advocates for the children of their schools then they have failed at that task. Then I will teach them about commitment and how we always do the right thing — and these people on this board committed to looking our for the children of the school system — a school system like or not my children belong to--and they failed. But what I can also say is that your Mommy spoke up and let those people know that what they have done is not right in any stretch of the imagination."

Davis said the situation will be discussed at length at the Back to School Information Session scheduled 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Thursday in the base's Town and Country Grand Ballroom , adding it is extremely important for all active-duty military parents who have school-age children to attend this important meeting.